Pandemic can’t dim the passion of AFL fans

No-one could have predicted how AFL season 2020 has panned out so far. Things could also change again before it’s over – if it does finish.

Our usual gripes about ticket prices, lukewarm pies and loud half time music have been replaced by concerns that we wouldn’t even have a season. COVID-19 has changed our lives, and for many footy fans it has changed the way we support our teams.

Victorian-based fans have been unable to attend any games this year, but some in other states have seen their team – or others – play.  We asked how they were faring almost halfway through this strangest of seasons.

Julian Farrell (Swans). Lives in Melbourne

Julian is the Sydney Swans Melbourne-based Cheer Squad Chant Leader. He is used to watching games on TV, but this season “just hasn’t felt the same with no contact with anyone”.

Julian has Foxtel and has been watching every game. He also follows NRL and says the three-week head start has kept him more interested in it.

“The politics in the lead up to the AFL re-starting really put me off,” he says. “Plus, the standard of games has been nigh in horrendous at times, with Richmond vs Sydney Swans being the nadir.

“I watched Richmond vs Carlton in Round 1 and lasted less than a half. It felt like a practice game. The fake noise has been good after goals but has often been irritating otherwise. The crowd roaring at a boundary throw-in is just dumb.”

Yoshi (St Kilda). Lives in Kyoto, Japan

Yoshi has been to Melbourne to attend games in the past. He misses that atmosphere and his friends who are fellow Sainters.

“I was at the MRV match at Docklands in 2018 with my St Kilda friends, and at the Shanghai clash with AFL Asia players in 2019,” he says.

This year Yoshi is following footy via the official St Kilda club app, AFL official app, Fox Footy programs, 1116 SEN, Facebook (St Kilda supporters’ groups) and chatting to his St Kilda friends.

As long as I watch games through Watch AFL in Japan, I enjoy watching Saints matches at home,” he says. “But if I can watch footy at an international bar, it would be better as I might be able to discuss about on field performances with other footy fans.”

Yoshi thinks the fake crowd noise is strange but “could cheer players up”.

As I can only attend a game once a year because I live far away from Melbourne, not being able to attend a game is usual for myself,” he says. “(For those in Melbourne now) it would be extremely hard and I would get depressed if I lived in Melbourne as I would attend all games played in Melbourne unless I play footy, no matter if it’s home or away.”

Judy Kelly (Hawthorn). Lives in Melbourne

Judy hasn’t been able to attend a game so uses social media, the Hawks website and club emails to stay up to date with footy. The club also called her about keeping her membership.

“What I miss about footy is going to see Hawthorn players training, getting involved with disability programs at Hawthorn Football Club, plus mixing with players, coaches/officials, staff and fans,” she says.

“What I miss most is Hawthorn’s Inclusion Match organise by the club, which includes Come & Try activities such as AFL Blind, AFL Wheelchair, plus Sensory Room (also Sensory Room available at Hawks Home matches).

“I also miss getting a chance to volunteer at the club. What I miss is the club’s involvement with disability support organisation Afford during this unprecedented time.”

Andrew Monro (Melbourne). Lives in Melbourne

Andrew misses socialising with my Demon Army mates and watching his beloved Demons play live. He is watching as much Footy as he can on TV. The fake noise is “just OK – at times makes no sense.”

“It’s great to watch the Dees on TV but it’s not the same as watching live,” he says.

“I am feeling it not being able to attend live games. It’s disappointing but at the same time I understand and just hope everyone gets through this crazy time.”

Traci Hodkinson (Sydney). Lives in Tasmania.

Tracey hasn’t attended any games and misses sitting with her Cheer Squad at the SCG, “the pre-game buzz with the optimism and hope that floats through the SCG bays”.

“My footy fix has been on an iPad via the AFL app or watching neutral games on Channel 7,” she says. “I hate the fake crowd as it doesn't reflect the true flow and emotion of the game being played.

“Finally, living in Tassie can be isolating, so not being able to fly to Sydney or Melbourne to see my team is excruciating. Being originally from Sydney, I combine my AFL matches with catching up with friends/family.”
In the photo, Traci is in the front row, third from the right, with the Tasmanian Swans Cheer Squad in Hobart.

Dot Green (Collingwood). Lives in country Victoria

Dot misses catching up with all the people who sit around her at the footy. The Legends member has not attended a game this year but donated her membership fee to the club.

Dot has been watching games on TV and watching a lot of football shows. She’s “not really impressed with fake crowd noise and sometimes it is really annoying”.

“I enjoy watching footy on TV, but not my own team because I have always preferred to be there,” she says. “You can always see so much more when actually at the game, so watching my own team on TV is frustrating.”

Sean Setter (Collingwood). Lives in Melbourne.

Sean normally attends games “almost every week” but hasn’t seen any this year. “The way we are going it could be a long time away from the game,” he says.

“I miss socialising with many friends both in the Cheer Squad and around the ground. I have Foxtel but haven’t been watching a whole lot as I don’t like the shortened quarters, fake noise and extremely poor scoring.

“I also am not liking all this interstate stuff either. I’m a paid-up Cheer Squad member and also disappointed the club hasn’t been in contact as well.”

Nicole Reid (Collingwood). Lives in Melbourne

Nicole has kept her Legends membership paid up, even though she hasn’t attended a game yet. She has been watching Collingwood and other games on TV and likes the fake crowd noise.

“I’m missing attending games very, very much I love the footy each week going and socialising and enjoying the game,” she says. “Not being able to attend the footy has been a huge thing for me to deal with.

“Am not as invested in the 2020 season as a normal season but am still enjoying the games as it’s a good distraction from everything that is going on in the world.”

Brendan Camilleri (Collingwood). Lives in Melbourne.

Brendan has happily paid his AFL Gold and Collingwood Legends memberships despite seeing no games this year. He has been watching games and footy shows on Foxtel and has enjoyed the coverage “without hearing ball and boos every two minutes”.

“The fake crowd noise hasn’t bothered me,” he says. “Struggling to keep interested though.”

Tricia Skehan (Essendon). Lives in Melbourne

Tricia has not seen any games this year and misses her Cheer Squad friends. She finds it hard to watch games on TV. “It’s not the same as being at the ground,” she says.

Cathryn McDonald (Port Adelaide). Lives in Adelaide

Cathryn was due to attend her first game for the year when Port took on St Kilda at Adelaide Oval.

Before then, she missed singing and chanting the most, and being in the stadium. “This is the longest I’ve not been to Adelaide Oval since I first went after the redevelopment,” she says.

“I’ve been mainly watching in pubs - it has been great to get around different venues who are still celebrating their reopening. The excitement of getting back to the pub, plus Port’s style of footy has made it heaps of fun!”

Cathryn says the club’s Queensland supporters did a great job while her team was in the hub. “Knowing the boys have had great support behind them at all games this year has made it a lot less difficult not being there,” she says.

Mark Costello (Giants). Lives in Sydney

Mark is a GWS Cheer Squad member who has attended games against North Melbourne, Hawthorn and Brisbane at GIANTS Stadium. “Each one has been treated different,” he says.

Only 40 fans (plus corporates) attended the North game, which was “very strict” in terms of ticketing and seating. “A number of Stadium/Giant officials were making sure social distancing occurred,” Mark says.

At the Hawthorne game, Mark had to sit in an allocated seat but as a Cheer Squad Member this was behind the goals – with the first two rows kept vacant.

Behind the goals was blocked off for the Brisbane game, so they sat in the forward pocket. “Security was making sure everyone kept their distance in seating,” Mark says. “There were warnings over the PA about fines if you did not seat in your allocated seat.”

Basic checks were made at each game, and Mark had to answer questions about whether he had visited certain places. He says the only social distancing issue was not many food outlets being open, which led to long queues “with little social distancing … except near counter”.

Mark also attended the Giants v Richmond game, which was the last one in Sydney for a while. He was “a bit annoyed” that parking had increased to $30, and public transport options were “poor”.

Roseanne Webb (Collingwood). Lives in Tocumwal, NSW

Roseanne travelled from Tocumwal to Sydney for the Pies-Hawks game at GIANTS Stadium. It was a 16-hour round trip, “but totally worth it!”

Roseanne says it was weird with only a few thousand in the crowd, when she is used to being at the MCG with 80,000 plus. “It was so great to see one game at least this year,” she says.

Narelle (Collingwood). Lives in Sydney

Narelle was thrilled to score tickets to the Collingwood v Hawthorn game at GIANTS Stadium. She attended with her daughter Cass.

“We are Pies supporters and it was great going to a home game in our own state,” Narelle says. “GIANTS stadium is a great venue. We had excellent seats a row to ourselves. It was great to be amongst the action.”

Narelle says there was plenty hand sanitiser available and security was “friendly and nice”. The atmosphere was “fantastic”.

“Didn't have to battle masses crowds and was even better not to have the annoying ground announcer,” she says. “It was fantastic to see Will Kelly kick the first goal of the game on debut. Plus the other Collingwood debutants  played really well. My daughter loves Jamie Elliott and he was on the ground in front of us where we were seated, so Cass had a great night, and we came home with a win.”

Siobhan Legge, Fremantle. Lives in Perth

Siobhan was lucky enough to attend the local derby and says there was “sanitiser everywhere!”

“The first couple of rows on the ground were empty, then every second row was empty,” she says. “Every other level had every second row empty. The atmosphere was AMAZING.”

Siobhan loved “just being back at the footy to be honest”. “I’ve had a rough start to 2020 personally (Covid has just topped it off ), so it was nice to let some steam off,” she says.


Nat also attended the Derby, there was “hand sanitiser everywhere”. She says every second row was empty, and social distancing was “great”.

“The only one thing I would say was when sitting in the seats, in the section I was in we were shoulder to shoulder down the aisle,” she says. “That was a bit concerning, but otherwise it wasn’t too bad.”

Andrew Underwood (Giants). Lives in Sydney

Andrew has attended GWS home games at GIANTS Stadium except the first two.

At the Collingwood game, he was taken to a conference room and asked to sit apart. At the other games, every second row was empty, and Andrew had two empty seats on each side of him.

He says the match day experience was “not as good as a big crowd but I enjoyed the game.” Andrew rated the atmosphere 7/10 and said the best thing about attending was simply that “I was there”.